Story at a glance

  • One in eight American women reported trying to conceive for one year without getting pregnant, which is how infertility is typically defined.
  • Infertility treatments have given those struggling to conceive hope, but only the privileged can access expensive procedures like in vitro fertilization.

It’s been 40 years since the first child conceived via in vitro fertilization was born and 33 since the first baby from a frozen egg. “Test tube babies” and the ability to store viable eggs outside the body fundamentally changed the outlook for anyone looking to get pregnant. 

But those medical advances aren’t available to everyone. For millions of people around the world, infertility treatments can be prohibitively expensive or hard to access because of geography or local laws, the New York Times reports. 

The average cost of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle is more than $10,000, and most couples end up footing the bill. Just 15 states require insurance companies cover infertility treatments, and exactly what they cover may vary. 

If you’re not in one of the lucky states, or the treatment you’re hoping to receive isn’t covered, it’s as if the last 40 years of medical advances never happened. 

In a recent study, one in eight American women reported trying to conceive for one year without getting pregnant, which is how infertility is typically defined. That percentage cuts across ethnicity, education, income, citizenship, insurance and geography. 

But when it comes to who was able to access treatment, the numbers tell a different story: just a third of those making less than $25,000 annually received treatment for their infertility, but if they made more than $100,000 the figure jumps to two thirds. 

But the difficulties don’t stop there. Even in the affluent U.S., 40 percent of the roughly 25 million women of reproductive age have limited or no access to fertility clinics. 

In some countries, legal barriers can be just as insurmountable for LGBTQ or unmarried people looking to conceive. In France and many other countries, for example, lesbians and single mothers are unable to access any kind of fertility treatment, forcing many to travel outside the country.

These treatments can mean the difference between a family and a lifetime of wondering “what if” for millions around the world, but right now they’re only available to those with the right combination of money and luck. Policy could help balance these inequities, but will it?

Published on Nov 08, 2019